Why we cheer
While the Cubs may be furstrating at times, it is good to reflect on how great the game of baseball truly is. It amazes me that eight years have passed since September 11th, but here we are and the game we love is still talking up our time even when things are not great. Regardless of how you feel about the current political atmosphere, take a step back enjoy the fact we have something so pure and great to focus on year after year.
I feel sorry for nations that do not get this level of enjoyment or pain for that matter. I know many people have pain in their lives, but this is a different kind of pain that is healed sometimes yearly. During the last eight years, the Cubs have made the playoffs three times, won two division titles, and broke our hearts eight times. Who doesn't love that? The funny thing is that we will back ready for more starting this offseason. By the times pitchers and catchers report, all will be forgiven for this season and our hopes renewed.
Enjoy the rest of the day, and watch a game this weekend if you get a chance. Life is too short to blame Jim Hendry for everything, and we need to embrace these times, because we will not be on this earth forever. We might as well watch more baseball while we still can.
Jeff Baker - Now playing second base for your 2010 Chicago Cubs, "Jeff Baker." Baker has a 1.073 OPS in his last seven games and barring a big change will be the starter at 2B next season.
Geovany Soto - He's 4 for 10 in his last three games, with three of those hits coming for doubles. We'll take what we can get at this point.
Derrek Lee - He has four home runs in the last week, but only 6 RBI. How does that work? Oh right, people need to get on base in front of him to drive them in.
Aramis Ramriez/Kosuke Fukudome - Both of these guys have OPS's under .600 in their last six games.
Rob and Kurt both commented on the Cubs chances for the playoffs. Well, I say we pull a Major League and take the whole "win he whole F'ing thing" approach. I know it is a long shot, but it is better than no shot.
"We cling to the fact that we will swing the bats better... You gotta give these guys every opportunity to work out of it." - Lou Piniella
"The Cubs four-run, come from behind victory was their largest ever against the White Sox." - @STATS_MLB
"YEEESSSSS!!!!" - Ron Santo
What a game, what a win.
Derrek Lee is today's hero, coming through in a big way with his three-run bomb in the 8th inning. You may be thinking to yourself that Lee has been having a fantastic month; well, check out this slash line for June coming into today's game.
D-Lee in June: .360/.428/.520
After all the crap we gave him, Derrek has quietly been carrying this team through one of their worst months imaginable on offense. He's only got eight RBI to show for it, but it's not his fault.
Credit is also due to Geo Soto, who brought himself home in the at-bat immediately following Derrek's dinger.
Soto's slugging in June is somewhere around .450 after today's game; that number rates higher than his slugging from June or July of 2008. Furthermore, it'll only go up once Soto figures out how to get his average above .222 for this month.
Finally, let's talk about the third offensive hero from today's game, the man who got the W flag flying, the one and only Mr. Alfonso Soriano.
Fonsi pulled a move out of Ryan Theriot's 2008 playbook in the bottom of the 9th today, flipping a single into the opposite field with ReJo on 2nd to plate today's winning run.
Hopefully, today's game is a sign of things to come, especially for these three dudes in particular. Are you convinced?
Let's savor this one, and get ready for Cliff Lee and the Indians.
Why We're Here
As mentioned on Friday - and expounded upon later by Rob - Wayne Drehs recently wrote a response column to a Bill Simmons article which itself was lamenting the devaluation of a Red Sox championship through the cheating ways of Manny Ramirez. (Phew, that was a long sentence.) In other words, this article is a continuation of Rob's response to Wayne's take on Bill's opinion about the Red Sox's title as impacted by Manny's cheating. Lots of effect, single cause.
I wrote a brief response in the comments section of Wayne's article which I will expand upon now.
What would I sacrifice for a Cubs championship? For starters...
Years ago a very standard opinion was that Wrigley Field was holding the Cubs back. The park was too small to hold enough people to spend enough money to build a winner. The day games took too much of a toll for the players to remain at a level necessary to win in the playoffs.
Since I first heard that argument, the Cubs have slowly begun to increase the number of night games at Wrigley while jacking up ticket prices and selling more than three million seats on a yearly basis - all things nobody anticipated. So when this debate appears nowadays I take it to be more of a commentary about how Cub fans were conditioned to love Wrigley Field more than the team itself. Anybody who would actually choose Wrigley over winning isn't a Cub fan but instead is a fan of a beautiful ballpark. These people should buy and wear Wrigley Field jerseys, not Cub jerseys. But I'm in it for the team. I don't care what happens to Wrigley; they can rename it, they can spray paint Sears ads into the ivy, it doesn't matter to me.
Not to mention that if I knew with absolute certainty that a Wrigleyless Cubs would win the World Series I'd volunteer to blow it up myself. But since we can never be certain of anything, then the question of Wrigley becomes one of income and that feeds into the second part of this article.
How much money?
One reason to keep Wrigley Field around is this simple truth: Wrigley without a competitive Cubs team is still worth two million seats a year. Wrigley with a competitive Cubs team is worth more than three million, regardless of the cost of the tickets. Based on the rabid fanbase and the relative unavailability of seats, the Chicago Cubs could -- and should! -- sell the most expensive tickets in baseball. As a relatively poor Cub fan who has to spend hundreds upon hundreds of dollars to go to just one game a year, the actual physical cost of a ticket means nothing to me.
With that in mind, so long as they consistently put the majority of that money into the team -- giving the Cubs one of the most expensive payrolls in the game -- then I don't care what they charge for tickets. $50 for bleachers? No problem. $1,000 for behind home plate? Sounds like a party! So while I wouldn't care if the Cubs bulldozed Wrigley Field for a new ballpark with all the modern conveniences, I have come to believe that they are more likely to win in Wrigley than anywhere else because -- for good or bad -- the ballpark is part of the attraction and that makes it a valuable tool in getting money to build a winner.
And anybody who argues that the organization has less incentive to build a winner because the ballpark is the attraction is nuts. I wouldn't need complex flow charts and statistical analysis to tell you that a Cubs World Championship would be hugely, immensely profitable for the team owner. As much cash as the Cubs generate now, it'll be even bigger and better once they win. Guaranteed.
Cheat to win? Isn't that sort of the point?
Poor Bill Simmons. He's not sure how he'll be able to look his son in the eye someday. A perfect season has been soiled for him. His heroes are apparently the first team to ever win a World Championship by cheating! Gasp!
I am extremely fond of pointing out that probably the vast majority of baseball players have been consuming greenies since the time of the Korean War. There are legends enshrined in Cooperstown who got there because they threw nasty spit balls and were exceptionally good at hiding nails and sandpaper in their gloves. Managers and players have actually spent real money on hiring people to put jinxes on their opponents. In baseball they actually have a statistic to measure a person's success at stealing - and if you're a really good base thief you'll probably get into the Hall of Fame!
I will not only be totally unsurprised if the Cubs cheat to win, I actually expect it. If they don't have a guy in the scoreboard with binoculars and a transmitter along with another guy in the dugout with an ear piece then I will be shocked and disappointed. You will never be able to show me with absolute certainty a team that won without cheating, it doesn't matter the sport or the level.
But let's take it a step further. What if, the day after the Cubs win the World Series, the FBI catches half the team in an alleyway buying steroids and HGH from a dealer?
Well, I'd be pissed off at their stupidity for getting caught, but I'd be relieved that it didn't happen until after they won. And cheat or not they'd still be winners.
Obviously it's not possible to erase the Jordan years, or to remove from history the '85 Bears. Obviously we can't change history. But if the Cubs actually win a World Series then Cub fans would be losing connection to a huge part of our shared history and a very big part of our identities.
After all, we are known far-and-wide for our pain, heartbreak, and suffering. The Cubs are well known for their history of being lovable losers. It's as much a part of their identity as is Wrigley Field -- and one of the most annoying phrases in my vernacular. But if the Cubs won, all of that would change.
It'd be like you looking back on when you were 12 and remembering how exactly it felt to be tortured by an older brother, teased by a girl in school, and forced into pointless labor by a distant father. No matter how hard you try you probably won't be able to capture that exact feeling of righteous frustration. Once the Cubs are winners -- and especially as the years go by -- we will lose connection with how it felt when they were hard-luck losers.
So yes. It is possible to sacrifice history in the name of winning. And since I am not exactly proud of the Cubs' history of losing I am perfectly content with that. I can't wait for it to happen.
Of course it would be entirely fitting for the Cubs to follow this course -- keep Wrigley, charge an arm and a leg, and win at all costs -- only to win in unusual and unexpected circumstances.
In other words, once the Ricketts Family steps in and begins to direct this team, watch what will happen. The year Wrigley is shut down to be renovated -- in other words, the year the Cubs play in US Cellular -- that will be when they win it all.
And even that would be perfectly okay with me. Anything for a title.
I have to thank the Cubs of 2008 for all of the happiness and wins this year. It was a momentous, incredible season. I don't think I have ever cheered as loud and as hard as I did this past summer.
And despite a disappointing end, this season went a long way to renewing my faith in the team...and emboldening and strengthening the hope I have for this team that I hold deep within me. I have to tell myself that I cannot let an unfathomable final act diminish any of the joy and delight that his summer brought to me. Yet, I can also allow myself time to grieve; as ridiculous as it will sound to some, these past two days felt to me as if I had lost a dear, true friend.
Because of the somewhat operatically tragic and crushing blow delivered to our season and the heartache, pain, and sadness it brought to me, I had to wonder, how are other Cubs fans reacting to this hard-to-believe ending?
Well, check out this article...
Pretty bleak, eh? I had to wonder what the intentions were of the person who wrote, "Dear Chicago Cubs 2008; It really hurts knowing I'll never see you again. We had some great times." Man...can I relate to that one person. Was this person merely saying farewell to the team of 2008? I have to hope that's the case.
Or was it something more? Abandoning the team as a fan? Suicide? As preposterous as it may seem to some, those last two, drastic options have actually been considered by more than one Cubs fan since this past Saturday night.
I want to find these people, grab them, hold them, hug them, tell them it's going to be all right. I want to tell them that it's okay to cry...to scream...to yell...to curse...to be depressed...to feel completely numb.
But it's NOT okay to stop hoping...we cannot, we must not EVER give up on our dream. I want to tell them that we can NEVER abandon this life, give up this or any of our dreams, or desert OUR team; we cannot do any of those things because those are decisions for the weak-hearted. And...true Cubs fans, the ones that have been there their whole life...are NOT weak-hearted.
There are two very special people I owe many heartfelt thanks to for reminding me of all of those things this past weekend.
Cubs fans have to find a way to yet again renew their passion. I want to remind those people who have lost all hope that, as Eddie Vedder says in "All The Way", his song dedicated to the Cubs and their fans, "we are NOT fair-weather, but foul-weather fans". We are there through the best AND the worst. We're not like Dodger fans...who fill their park for only half of the regular-season games but pack it to capacity once their team is on the brink of the Playoffs. In defense of this fact, some people say, "Well, what do you expect? It's LA." Or they'll say, "Well, most stadiums around the country don't sell out EVERY game. Most regular-season games are played in front of half-empty stadiums."
My point exactly; it's not like that at Wrigley Field. We fill that stadium for every, single game. And some people would say we're "losers", or "idiots" for doing so...for showing such devotion and loyalty to a team that "can't win". But, we don't pack the place wall to wall for 81 games because of those reasons; we do it because we hold onto hope...we have faith...we believe.
I want to help Cubs fans cling to hope, give them some of the strength that those who love me have helped me to find within myself. Reassure them that if we just keep believing, holding on, waking every day knowing that SOMEDAY our faith will be rewarded...that's enough to keep us hanging on. Isn't it?
I want to find those people who have "given up"...and I want to make them promise me that they will never lose their hope. If I can find the strength to come back again, so can they; I want to make them promise me that.
It HAS to happen eventually...
Regardless as to whether it's next year, the year after, or ten years from now, I will keep hoping, believing, and cheering. And with help from those who love me (special thanks to Jennifer, George, Ana, Mina, King, Emily, and Jim)...I will find the strength to hang on. I'll hold that one, beautiful vision in my head and use it as inspiration to come back again next year, to risk suffering the same heartache.
To quote Eddie Vedder again, I will look to the memory of the day I was "blessed and healed...the first time I walk[ed] into Wrigley Field" and remind myself that it is a journey, a long voyage, one filled with both joy and misery. I will cherish the notion of the "magic in the ivy", the vision of sitting in that ballpark with some of the people I love; Jennifer, Ana, Mina, George, Mindy, my Father, my Mother. I will hold onto that feeling of joy, love, and comfort and remind myself that part of the joy of winning the big one...is enduring the process of getting there.
I will take it day by day...I will wear my Cubbie blue with pride...and I will know that it means more than just the symbol on my chest or hat...it means that I have a strength and conviction that's rare to find. I will summon the courage to hold my head high, I will remind myself that "in a world full of greed, I could never want more than" one dream, and I WILL in my heart of hearts...believe...
...someday...we'll go all the way.
Thank you, Chicago Cubs....see you next year...
Why We Cheer
You'll forgive me if this post is somewhat rambling. I'm currently sitting in GoatWriter Kyle's living room after indulging in several 2 dollar Blue Moon drafts this afternoon to settle my nerves (yea, you wish you lived in Champaign...kind of).
I grew up from as soon as I could understand baseball being a Cubs fan. I bled blue from the time I was 7, investing myself in our 1995-98 teams like only an elementary school kid could. I think it suffices to say that Kevin Foster was my favorite pitcher until The Moose stole my heart. That thing he did in the dugout where he'd flip the ball in his hand: Genius. Of course, I had to give that up for our very own slugger who happens to be a fairly good pitcher every fifth day. I mean, Big Z outslugged and outhomered 36 million dollar man Andruw Jones. Think about it.
I lived about a mile from school in elementary school. We let out at 3:30. Cubs games start at 1:05. I, a physics major now, did my first real mathematical calculation at the tender age of 7. If I ran home at a 10 minute mile pace, I could make it home for the 7th inning most days. This was a terrible mathematical calculation, which probably should have helped me realize I was to be a terrible physics major. But I'd get home, run into the kitchen, grab my Caffiene-Free Coke (not that it kept me from ending up short anyway) and Cheez-Its and have at it. The only TV we had at that time was an 18-inch piece of junk that had an antenna that only occasionally worked. I'd sometimes have to hold a piece of silverware on the antenna to extend the amount of metal and thus get reception. (I loved the Cubs that much...and was not at all shocked at the love of physics). That's what I did, all spring, all fall. Cubs.
I actually hated night games back then. They drove me crazy. Who the hell was Jamie Navarro? I didn't even know we had Frank Castillo on our roster. I got home during the 8th inning everyday, and therefore had an encyclopedic knowledge of our bullpen. Turk Wendell was my hero, Randy Meyers was still considered at least AA material, and Terry Adams...well...was Terry Adams. The only starting pitcher I did know was the quirky and awesome Foster.
To be honest, I didn't have any rabid passion towards the team, but they owned my childhood. I'd skip friends, sports, etc. It was all Cubs.
You could call the Jim Riggleman era a quiet point. The next part of my fan-ness comes 2003. I got rabid. I loved that team. I watched every game I could, and some I probably shouldn't. I believed in it. They looked like the BoSox would during 2004: simply a team of destiny. I sat looking at whatever the hell came on the television after the Game 6 debacle in total and utter shock, unable to think or move or comprehend. My little brother was at that game, and came home proud that he had shouted “Asshole” with 40,000 other fools at poor Bartman. I remember screaming at him for that. I mean, if you're going to yell that at someone, Alex Gonzalez was still on the field, and he needed to be unforgiven for being Bill Buckner 2.0, Leon Durham in Cuban skin.
I wept unabashedly following Game 7. I will admit that to anyone at anytime. I cried. A lot.
In the series of articles on ESPN that Kurt put up, there was one that resonated hugely with me, that of Billy Corgan. A part of my love for the Cubs died that day in October. I have been forced to spend the following years as a casual fan. I couldn't help it, really. I just couldn't reinvest myself after that crushing blow. Alex Gonzalez and Dusty Baker broke my will that night.
Some of you may recognize me from some of Kyle's posts as his “Pirates fan friend”. Now, that's just ridiculous, but part of my defensiveness about letting the Cubs back into my heart was finding another team I could root for...even if entirely as a joke and to make Kyle go crazy. After all, what I was really hoping for was for them to finish .500, which is not exactly “cheering” for a team. And never against the Boys in Blue.
This is the year. This is it. Part of my reinvestment is Kyle's investment in this blog. It's kind of hard to not pay attention to something when one of your best friends blogs about them constantly. Also, the amount of content leads to a lot of my time spent reading what happens here (seriously, do you have a day job Kurt...or just pretend to, cause I'm not convinced). But part of it is that whole 2004 Red Sox thing. That “Team of Destiny” thing. I'm willing to get hurt this time. Maybe if I get crushed again, it'll be hard to get back..
But this is that year. Loney just hit a Grand Slam. Kyle just punched a whole in his wall. I screamed.
I'm okay. It's why I cheer.
Here's my two cents, adjusted for inflation.
I can't recall when it was I became a "serious" Cubs fan. Like most people who grew up in the Chicagoland area, I remember seeing the Cubs on WGN as a kid. At the time, I was mostly ticked off that they interfered with my cartoon-watching. (I've since changed, obviously.) I remember my brother - eight years older than me - pounding the floor when the Cubs screwed up (often). I have no idea why I'm a fan. My dad did NASCAR before it became a rich hick's sport. My mom wasn't into it (although she has since because of me). My brother, other than impressing me with his beating up on the floor probably doesn't care anymore (he also switched allegiance from the Bears to the Packers, for chrissake, so I don't really trust him knowwhatI'msayin'?).
It was the late 90s when I started really watching the games and paying attention. I lived in St. Paul for a stint, but when I moved back in '02, I would scrape the money together to buy tickets to a game and go watch with my cousin or take my nephew, and later, my niece.
By the time 2003 hit, I was a full blown headcase. Screaming, throwing shoes at my tv and wall headcase during the disaster that was the NLCS.
I have amnesia regarding '04-'06, and that's a good thing. I don't want to remember that asshattery. I went to Wrigleyville and stood outside the park (no ticket) Game 3 against AZ last year. I stood around, watching the tvs people had jerry-rigged up, hoping that we'd somehow pull through, only to be miserably crushed.
I love the field. I love the history. I love being at a game and going nuts with some miraculous come-from-behind-hit and you start high-fiving or hugging complete strangers. I love Ronnie and his absolute emotional honesty over the radio. Winter sucks; I fidget in the spring, waiting for opening day. I have spent more money on tickets and paraphenalia this year than I care to add up. I have raced around the city and burbs with friends to get autographs, done last minute road trips to Cincinnati because I was jonesing for a game. I hate the people who mock the Cubs, because I am waiting for the day when I get to say SEE! SEE! THEY DID IT! SCREW YOU!
If this were an actual relationship, this would be one of those "baby, I promise things will be different followed up by the fist to the gut everyone saw coming but you" relationships. Restraining orders, knives, cars running over people. Dirty nasty graveyard love. And I just can't walk away. I discarded a recent dating candidate in part because he couldn't care less about baseball, even though he grew up blocks from Wrigley. WTF? He was also a hairy bastard. A little manscaping please?
I believe the Cubs also serve as my way of promoting gender equality in sports viewership. Hey, guys, if you're gonna watch T&A beach volleyball, ogle cheerleaders, etc., I'm gonna go to a baseball game and enjoy some fine baseball player ass. (Dear Canada: Thank you for producing Rich Harden. Rrrowl.) A guy friend of mine, Michael, who has gone to games with me cracks up because I'll talk about someone's batting average or what not one second, and then go "Oooh! Mark's up, god is he hot!" There needs to be statistic for Hot Player Percentage. Just need to toss E6, Howry and Wuertz. (Dear Mark: Howry is in no way, shape or form an "Adonis". Just, NO.) I also swear like a sailor and it can get not-pretty. I told a Philly fan earlier this year to go fly a kite in a lightning storm because he was pissing me off and blocking my view. And then I started throwing peanuts at him. Until Michael made me stop. Damn him.
The damn Eddie Vedder song practically makes me cry. It's not loving them because of some "lovable loser" idiocy - it's because you know the day the Cubs do throw the monkey off their collective backs and beat it into bloody submission and thus proving the ESPN f***tards wrong, it is GOING TO FEEL SO GOOD. I love this team like crazy because it is a true "TEAM". It's not "Sosa and some other dudes." I love how these guys have each other's backs, and that on any given day, the most unlikely guy can be the spark. Hell, I was at the Cinci game where Marquis - MARQUIS! - freaking hit a home run. I thought the world was going to end right then. And that was before he pulled his grand slam against the Mets!
There's nothing rational about it. But I guess that's love for you.
It's almost impossible for me to put into words what it means to me to be a die-hard, lifelong fan of the Chicago Cubs.
When I have attempted to put that meaning to writing in the past...some people have responded by calling me crazy. Some have responded by saying that the Chicago Cubs are "trivial". They tell me the Cubs aren’t, in the grand scheme of things, that important to my life. They try to make me “understand” that I'm foolish to invest so much of myself in the success of a team that I have no “real” connection to.
Because of my love for the Cubs, I've suffered through some of my darkest days. I've endured insults. I've been mocked. I've been subjected to torture both physical and mental at the hands and mouths of foes and supposed "friends" alike. People have called me a "loser"; they've laughed in my face as my heart broke...year after year. Because of my love, I've been through all kinds of hell that I wager to say many people and even sports fans can't even imagine; well...with the exception of the Red Sox fans I know.
To all those people, to my friends and foes, I say this; watch all the videos and read all the stories at this page...
If after taking all of that in, they still can't understand or respect what it means to me to be a Cubs fan...what that team means to me, then perhaps they never will. But, maybe I can feebly attempt to at least try to help them understand...
I know what the Cubs mean to me. I'm aware of the fact that they have captured my heart in a way that few things or people in my life ever have. I know that my passion for them goes deeper than almost everything else in my life; and this passion is rooted in something deep and meaningful.
I remember my first Cubs game so fondly and clearly. My family took me when I was still just a young boy, and from that day on, I was hopelessly lost to the magic of the Cubs and Wrigley Field. From that first walk up the stairs to the Terrace Reserved section to my most recent trip there this past June, Wrigley Field is my "home". It is my "mecca"...it is a place I dream of both during the day and while I sleep at night. It's a place where the incredible can happen, where losses pierce your heart like the sharpest arrow, wins can bring you to euphoria that rivals any major life event, and where the impossible can be accomplished. It's a place where the grass is greener than any I've ever laid eyes on in all my travels, and where the sky is brighter and more blue than any ocean. It's where I want to be laid to rest when I finally leave this Earth because it, like the team itself, means more than the sum of its parts. It's where my love was born...and where I go to affirm that love.
And, despite all the pain I've endured, all the vitriol and bile that's been directed at me because of it (for reasons that are still quite unclear to me, honestly. Even I was happy for White Sox fans when their beloved team finally won “The Big One” in 2005), I know that my love and my hope will always be a part of me. What's more, I've passed my love on to both my wife and my beautiful niece; and I know that if I leave this Earth before they do, they will always root for the Cubbies. What's more, if the Cubs don't win a World Series until after I am gone, my wife and niece and those who know and love me will celebrate in my memory, they will think of me, and they will thank me for passing that part of who I am on to them.
When I think of the Cubs, I usually think of one-word associations and memories; Harry. Addison. Clark. Sheffield. Prior. Bartman. Maddux. Dawson. Sandberg. Grace. WGN. Chicago. Zambrano. Wrigley. Goat. Curse. Love. But, as you have already likely surmised, it's obviously not that simple. The Cubs, like their Home Field, are more than the sum of these parts...these associations and recollections.
To me, and to so many others, they are more because they symbolize something greater; hope, loyalty, endurance, love, pride, tenacity, the strength to carry-on, the ability to keep a dream alive...EVERYTHING that I hold near and dear to my heart, that makes me who I am, that signifies all that I believe in...
...and no matter how bad things get, I will ALWAYS believe. I will always hope. And I need...and deserve to have that hope, belief, and faith rewarded.
So, maybe after watching the videos and reading the stories on those pages...and after reading this blog, maybe some of the people I’m trying to reach will understand. Or, at the very least, they'll begin to respect and understand what the Chicago Cubs and my love for them mean to me. It's not up for debate as to whether or not this love is unhealthy (of course it's unhealthy to some degree). But, perhaps, at the very least, they'll now refrain from or at least think twice before making wise-cracks to my face about the Cubs.
Because, if nothing more, I'm hoping they'll understand...
what it means to me...
to be a Cubs fan.
Go, Cubs, go.
Individuals become fans of particular sports team through one of two ways—choice, or inheritance. For fans of the modern Chicago Cubs what tended to drive the “choosers” was the visibility that the Cubs had thanks to the power of television. In the 1980’s and 1990’s both the Cubs and Atlanta Braves were seen all across America on cable TV. The additional advantage that the Cubs had was that all of their homes games were played during the day until 1988, so kids who were home all day during the summer had the opportunity to watch major-league baseball.
I am part of the other group, the inherited, which a pessimist might call the indoctrinated., and which a true cynic would call the abused.
The roots of my Cub fandom go back two generations. My father’s father, the son of Irish immigrants, began the cycle. Back then, in the early aughts, during the Frank Chance Era, the Cubs were not known as a “North Side” team per se, as both the Cubs and Sox played south of Downtown. Sure, the Cubs, near modern-day UIC, were about 5 miles northwest of the Sox, who back then played on 39th Street, but the modern-day dichotomy of North Side/South Side wasn’t as developed as it is now.
If I were to guess, I would say that there were two factors that contributed to my grandfather choosing the Cubs (although the story goes that he was cool with both teams at one point, but later ditched the White Sox after the 1919 World Series scandal). The first factor was that he lived closer to West Side Grounds, home of the Cubs. The other was how ridiculously awesome those Cubs team were. True story. The 1906 Cubs team holds the record—since 1900--for the best single-season winning percentage. The 1906-1907 Cubs hold the best two year record, and the 1906-1908 Cubs hold the best three year record. The Cubs averaged 107 wins a year in that stretch, while playing only 152 games per year. Nobody has ever dominated baseball for a near 450-game stretch like that before or since.
This was a really goddamn good team and it’s no wonder that my grandpa staked his claim to them.
Sadly, my dad would not be so lucky. Sure, the year he was born—1933—the Cubs, in the midst of another National League dynasty, were defending National League champs. They would also win the pennant when he was 2 and again when he was 5. It was the last “Golden Era” of a franchise that had, by then, enjoyed rather quite a few of those eras already. By this time my grandfather had settled in the area near Wrigley Field in an increasingly populated North Side, and this was where my dad was born and raised. My father does not have much recollection about the Cubs in the 1930’s, although he was often reminded by his old man about some of the stars from these perennially-contending clubs—Kiki Cuyler, Lon Warneke and his dad’s favorite player—Riggs Stephenson.
Sadly, my dad was unwittingly entering an era that was, at that point, totally unprecedented for the franchise. Sure, they won the pennant again in ’45, but not before the Cubs franchise had suffered through their first-ever five-year streak of sub .500 baseball, going al the way back to 1876 (indeed, in the near 70 years that the Cubs had existed prior to 1940, they only had suffered through 14 sub-.500 seasons total, and never more than three consecutive). Besides, the pennant they did win in ’45 hardy signified any sort of a dynasty anyway. At 12 years old, though, my dad couldn’t have appreciated the fact that this patchwork pennant winner mostly represented the fact that their 4F’s were simply, in the words of the great Mike Royko “less enfeebeled” than the 4-F’s of all of the other NL teams, whose better players were off to war. In any event, as everyone knows, the 1945 Cubs definitively slammed shut a nearly-uninterrupted 70-year string of pennant contention and marked the commencement of one of the darkest ages in professional sports.
The loyalty stuck with my dad, though, as should be expected. As a young man in the 1950’s, he would while away many afternoons at Wrigley, watching one collection of misfits after another fumble, overthrow, and swing and miss at baseballs year after year. In the entire decade of the 50’s, the Cubs enjoyed one—ONE--.500 season, and even that was right at .500—in 1952, when they went 77-77.
Amazingly, it got worse in the early 1960’s when oddball owner PK Wrigley implemented his bewilderingly inept “College of Coaches” In 1962 the Cubs would suffer through their first-ever 100 loss season. They repeated the feat 4 years.
All of this classic ineptitude was not enough to turn my dad off the Cubs—the seed had been planted and the thought of simply turning his attention to the perennially-contending White Sox across town never would have occurred to my dad (indeed, another one of my inherited traits is that while, I generally root against New York teams in all sports, the Yankees never bothered me. Hearing stories from my old man about Mantle, Maris, Ford and crew strutting into a town and taking 4 of 4 or 4 of 5 from the annoyingly successful White Sox, knocking them down a peg and giving my dad a brief ray of happiness during a time when the Cubs were in a positively medieval era makes me happy). My older brothers, born roughly a decade ahead of me in the early 60’s, were raised Cub fans and in theirearliest years, the Cubs had briefly—and disappointingly as it turned out—gotten good again. But the Durocher-Era Cubs—who still never won anything—soon faded back into the 1950’s-like malaise to round out the 1970’s.
And this is where I come in. I was aware of the Cubs by about 1977, but my 5-year old brain was yet unable to hold any real interest in them. I’m pretty sure it was in 1977 when I was taken to my first game. My first visual recollection starts with my dad turning off Chuck Woolery on “Wheel Fortune” while Chuck was in the midst of giving some lady the go ahead to purchase the porcelain Dalmatian (ahh, Chuck Woolery and people buying obnoxious shit instead of just getting a check. My how “Wheel of Fortune” has changed), and off we went—six of us--to the Cubs game. The recollection for me is boiled down to a sort of vague snapshot—a sunny view from the bleachers, 400 feet from the action, which is where my dad would always take us if there were more than 1 kid going with, as the bleachers were a much cheaper ticket back then.
So while I had been exposed to the Cubs in 1977 and 1978, it didn’t really take root until 1979. This may have something to do with the fact that 1979 was the year that I began playing Little League Baseball myself. For whatever reason, the first vivid memory I have of the Cubs is from a late-September game against the scary Pittsburgh Pirates. My appreciation for baseball may have been in its infancy, but I was able to glean enough to know that the Pirates were a menacing bunch. Dressed in gold and black uniforms, these big, bad jewelry-clad, moody mofos like Dave Parker, Mike Easler, John Milner and Bill Madlock (not to mention the gentlemanly but still-fearful Willie Stargell) were a pretty bad-ass bunch of dudes and would, in fact, eventually win what would be their last World Series to date that season. The fact that the Cubs chose not to flee the field shrieking, let alone actually challenge the Pirates in a couple of close games, got me excited for them. The Cubs were hovering around .500 at the time but were out of contention and yet they played Pittsburgh tough. In one of the games—and this is really the precise point where my first recollection of action on the field takes place—the Cubs’ manager, Herman Franks, a delightfully rotund individual, came out to argue a call with the umpire and went hysterical, kicking dirt and otherwise making a spectacle of himself. Franks may have flipped his cap around to get in the ump’s face for all I remember. Watching the game on WGN-TV, as the later-summer, late-afternoon shadows had crept around home plate, I was hooked.
My delight in this funny looking and funnily-named Herman Franks quickly turned to sadness when he was fired immediately after the Pittsburgh series. He was replaced by third-base coach Joey Amalfitano, but it didn’t matter. Sad as I was to see Franks gone, I spent that offseason after the 1979 campaign waiting for baseball to come back.
The 1980 Cubs were terrible. Franks’ replacement—Preston Gomez—couldn’t even make it to August, as he was canned after 90 games into his first year. Once again Amalfitano replaced the manager and apparently, Joey’s 15-37 record convinced the Cubs to let him run the team in 1981 from the get-go.
It only got worse in 1981, a team that I still rank in the top 5 in mylifetime as the worst ever (in no particular order, the other four would be 1986, 1994, 1997, and 2002.). No matter, though. Even though the Cubs were a dreadful 15-37 (what is it with that record?) when the player’s strike hit, they were granted a reprieve as the league decided to spit the season up into “halves”. The Cubs got a fresh start, and I, of course, being the young stupid kid I was, felt like a kid who gets Christmas in July waiting for the “second” Opening Day. Of course the Cubs proved that their 15-37 first half was no mirage as they went 23-38 in the second half to finish with a .369 winning percentage for the season. But that still didn’t deter me. Like my dad in the 1950’s, I was a Cub fan whether I liked it or not.
Of course, while many people of my generation have seen some awful, awful baseball, we also have seen more successful seasons than those fans who came before us, so I can’t complain that I’ve suffered more than people like my dad and my uncles have. And my fandom, such as it arrived during a particularly bleak period of time for the Cubs, was rewarded in 1984, when they snapped a 39-year postseason drought.
I’ve written in the past about steering my daughter away from rooting for the Cubs. Born in 2006, the Cubs had yet to score a run in her presence during her first two games, in 2006 and 2007, respectively, so my ambivalence was warranted (that, and the fact that she was born toward the end of the MacPhail Era of Incompetence and my frustration with the team at the time was at a fever pitch). Anyway, my wife and I got her out there again for last Sunday’s season finale against the Cardinals, and the Cubs not only scored, and won, but my now two-and-a-half year old girl managed to make it all the way through to the end of the game. When we sang “Go Cubs Go” after the last out, she sang most all of the words and it occurred to me that I may have already passed it down.
Editor's Note: Huey is a Goat Rider at Large who currently hangs his hat at Hire Jim Essian. He is a good writer who has been kind enough on past occassions to save news clippings of various Goat Riders whenever we have been able to sneak our way into the press.
I have to admit something here that is very hard for me to say: I didn’t grow up a true Cubs fan (gasp).
Now I did grow up in the Chicagoland area where the reach of WGN was negated by the fact that I lived only 20 minutes away from Wrigley Field, but my baseball upbringing was one of bipartisanship.
My father, a man who works in the construction biz and has his share of connections (he’s kind of a big deal in case you can’t tell), always got free baseball tickets from clients and partners. He got free Cubs tickets and free White Sox tickets all the time.
Unlike a lot of parents who might influence or force their baseball views onto their children, my parents let my brother and I choose our fandom. There was no doubt both my parents had been Cubs fans their entire lives, but they never took the option to choose away from us. In fact, some of my most vivid early baseball memories of are the mid-90s White Sox and Frank Thomas crushing baseballs in every direction (please don’t kick me off this site).
I’d like to think the reason I was so apathetic towards a team was because I didn’t give a shit about baseball growing up. For starters, I was terrible a Little League player. I made Ted Lilly look like effin Babe Ruth at the plate. But as a kid with a short attention span, it was just boring. Soccer was the money sport. Everyone played that…although I was awful at soccer too.
Like a fine wine, however, baseball got better with age…and I remember the exact moment I became a true Cubs fan.
It was the summer of 2003 and I was starting my senior year of high school. The Cubs had become an interest of mine, but my main focus was on football. Baseball was still too slow for me. I “liked” the Cubs, but I didn’t have any particular interest in them besides going to games and looking at girls’ chesticles.
But as the season wore on and summer turned to fall, I found myself more attracted to the culture of being a Cubs fan. Sure they break you heart. Sure they spit in your face. Sure they abuse like a cheaply rented mule. But for some undeniable reason, I began to love it.
As we all know, the 2003 season was littered with “bandwagon” fans (or as I like to call them “drink lots of beer and feel up girls…and then there is that whole baseball thing”-wagon fans), but I wasn’t one of them. I was hooked into this team far beyond the point of it just being a fling.
I was ready to settle down, get a decent job, have a kid and make an honest team out of the Cubs. I was in it for the long haul.
Had the Cubs gone on to win the 2003 NLCS and perhaps the World Series – which I believe they would have – I might not be the fan I am today. Believe it or not, but I actually liked the pain. I liked the suffering. But most of all, I liked the fact that I (for some unknown reason) invested so much emotion into something that failed miserably and I actually wanted more. I’m one sick SOB if you can’t tell.
I attribute all of this to the ultimate payoff: The Cubs winning the World Series.
Over the months in which I watched the team closely, I developed a bond with the loser mentality. I began to understand what it felt like to have your dreams stepped on over and over again (let’s call this teenage angst…) like so many young people do. The Cubs were more than a baseball team, they were a representation of every high school loser who always dreamed of making it big some day.
They say the winter in Chicago builds character, but so does being a Cubs fan. This team something taught me something about loyalty and passion (cue violin) and they actually made me care for them. I takes a certain type of person the love the Cubs (no, not an S&M addict) and it takes a certain type of character to find that attractive.
Like I said, my parents raised me in a bipartisan baseball house. No disrespect to them or their parenting skills, but I am going to raise my kids as Cubs fans. It takes a special person to love this team, and that kind of passion cannot be created anywhere else. Period.
Plus when the Cubs final win the World Series and are able to call themselves champions, every moment of suffering and ridicule will be suddenly worth it…plus I’ll get really really drunk.
So why do we cheer? Because it hurts so good.
Becoming a Cubs fan is something that doesn’t happen overnight. Well, I suppose it could happen, but you get my point. There are many things that we control, but who we root isn’t one of those things. It would be easy to be a Yankees fan or a Patriot fan, but once you find your team there really isn’t any choice.
Growing up in Alabama, there weren’t many choices for a baseball fan. It was either the Braves by proximity or nothing, until cable came along. The first 9 years of my life we didn’t have cable, thus I wasn’t a huge baseball fan. So, I was spared the 1984 disaster and even 1989 was a little hazy, but I still remember not liking Will Clark. Overtime, I started watching WGN every day after school. Back then we I was only a couple minutes from my house, so I usually rolled in the house around the fifth inning or so after school.
There was just something about watching the Cubs that really clicked for me. It wasn’t like they were winning all those years (you and I both know they weren’t), but the enthusiasm was just there, and I was hooked.
If there was one moment that cemented the Cubs in my heart, it was the trip to Wrigley Field in 1993. My step-father grew up in Chicago. So, that summer we took a trip to see his family. Of course, we were going to head to a Cubs game, while were up in Park Ridge. Just like today, the game was a sellout, but we were able to get standing room only tickets, which actually were pretty bad. I remember standing behind the seats on the first base side and not being able to see much.
It’s funny, but I really don’t have any real memories of the game, except walking into Wrigley and looking at everything. For some odd reason, I do remember Steve Buechele playing third base. Regardless, I was now a Cub fan for life. I do remember my second game at Wrigley for a couple of reason. It was 1995, and I was on a church choir tour that stopped in Chicago. Of course, I made sure that we visited Wrigley. This was the year after the strike, and we were all still bitter about baseball. We made a sign before the game that read, “We paid only to hear Harry sing.” It actually got us on WGN that afternoon; I still have the tape somewhere. The game was a great pitching duel between two unlikely guys. Steve Trachsal threw seven shutout innings, while Tom Candiotti threw eight. It wasn’t settled until the 9th inning. Rudy Seanz came in for “The Candy Man” and promptly gave up a single to Mark Grace. What happened next was a thing of legend. Howard Johnson (yes that one) hit a bomb into right-center bleachers for a home run. If there was any doubt of my rooting interests (there wasn’t) it was over that point.
Still, the Cubs never gave me anything more than moments of glory and happiness, but I remained faithful. In 98, I stayed in my dorm room to watch the playoff game, instead of going out for drinks with my friends. At one point, I was cheering so loud at one point the R.A. had to come make sure that everything was ok (it was, we won). I missed that playoff year, because I didn’t have a car to make the trip to Atlanta, but I didn’t make the same mistake in 2003. I made trips to Atlanta (three of them exactly) and Miami to have a chance to see the Cubs in person.
I won’t say it is easy being a Cub Fan, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. It just makes you appreciate things even more. In 2003, I skipped the Alabama/Arkansas overtime thriller to see the Cubs sweep a doubleheader to clinch the NL Central (a sin in the eyes of many of my friends to miss a football game). My rationale was simple. I’ve seen the Crimson Tide play Arkansas plenty of times, but I’ve never seen Cubs clinch a division that I could actually remember.
Why do we cheer? I cheer because being a fan of a team is more important and more rewarding than most things in life. It is one thing we can choose not to do, but can’t help to because our team is a part of us. We cheer to make us whole, and hope one day that we can celebrate together as World Series Champions.
Chris Yarbrough is one of those rare real-life journalists who's been slumming it with the bloggers at least since I started reading Cubs sites back during the 2003 season. He can be read at Yarbage's Cub Review or at Cut Jim Edmonds, where he made the common mistake of thinking that Jim Edmonds would be a waste of uniform material with the Cubs. Hey, I made the same mistake myself. Live, learn, and, in this case love to be wrong